Sutherland’s amicus brief calls marriage and family ‘pre-political institutions’

Wedding ringsSutherland Institute filed an amicus curiae brief Monday with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in the state’s appeal of Kitchen v. Herbert – the case in which the judge struck down Utah’s Amendment 3, briefly allowing same-sex marriages to be performed.

Judge Robert Shelby wrongly “characterized the ‘goal’ of Utah’s marriage amendment as ‘imposition of inequality’ as if legislators had gathered in a brainstorming session to determine how to harm the chances of same-sex couples, and came up with a thing called marriage to which these couples could be intentionally excluded,” the brief says.

Marriage and family are “pre-political institutions,” it says. “Given that marriage and family are pre-political and not mere instruments of state policy, they are fundamental to a system of ordered liberty …”

“All of this is not to say the state has no role to play in regards to marriage and the family. The state can, and ought to, provide a legal structure for the family to be recognized and it can protect the integrity of that structure.”

Click here to read the full brief.

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Testimony regarding HB 311 (Budgeting Amendments) and HJR 11 (Budget Responsibilities)

sutherland file pictures 008Testimony presented by Derek Monson, director of policy, Sutherland Institute, before the House Revenue and Taxation Standing Committee regarding HB 311 – Budgeting Amendments and HJR 11 – Joint Rules Resolution on Executive Appropriations Committee Budget Responsibilities:

Thank you, Mr. Chair. My name is Derek Monson, representing Sutherland Institute. I am here to speak in favor of these bills. We view them being really about sustainability and the future. The information that HB 311 creates will create security in knowing we are making budget decisions in the context of the “big picture,” not just in the context of a couple years ahead or behind.

This better information will lead to greater prudence in budgetary decision-making than would be possible otherwise. And perhaps most important impact is that will create more public trust among both current and future generations that we are going to have the service which we all want from our government, including public education, transportation, and a social safety net.

As an example, as a young father I have one child; a 2-year-old girl. And now these issues are on my mind much more, given the world we live in with things like instability and gridlock in Washington, D.C., and other issues we have to deal with that have not existed at the same level in the past.

We think these policies are a step in a good direction to address these issues. And we would encourage your support of them. Thank you.

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On Point presented by Sutherland Institute, Show 4, 2/6/14

On Point presented by Sutherland Institute focuses on the political and policy issues facing Utah, hosted by an all-female panel of Utah’s political insiders. Today’s show features Holly Richardson of the “Holly on the Hill” blog, Michelle Mumford, assistant dean at the BYU Law School, and Brooke Adams, reporter at The Salt Lake Tribune. The panel discussed prison relocation, women in prison, recidivism, unforced errors in the Amendment 3 case, women in politics and education funding.

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Testimony on HB 96 (Utah School Readiness Initiative)

Utah_State_Capitol_2008Testimony presented by Stan Rasmussen, director of public affairs, Sutherland Institute, before the House Education Standing Committee of the Utah Legislature on Feb. 6, 2014, regarding HB 96 – Utah School Readiness Initiative:

Thank you, Mr. Vice Chair and good morning, Representatives. Stan Rasmussen representing Sutherland Institute. We appreciate Rep. Hughes’ attention to public education and his earnest efforts over the past many years. We have some concerns and a statement to share on this proposed legislation.

Sutherland understands the desire to help truly at-risk children improve their educational opportunities – children whose home situations make it difficult if not impossible for them to prepare for successful academic pursuits. We share that desire, in fact. And we believe such needs are best assessed and efforts to help are most appropriately undertaken at the local level.

As a state-driven, top-down policy instrument, HB 96 must use state-level measures to determine “at risk” status, such as whether a student qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch. By this measure, in 2012 nearly 40 percent of all children in K-12 schools would be considered “economically disadvantaged” and therefore “at risk.” Clearly, the number of truly “at risk” children in need of in-class preschool services does not approach anywhere near four out of every 10 children in Utah. This underscores the point that such determinations are best made at the local level.

Instead of crafting a statewide preschool program that could end up unnecessarily taking many children who are not truly “at risk” out of their homes, Utah should recognize the fact that local school districts are better situated to determine “at risk” status and craft targeted preschool programs for children in need. At the very least, if the state feels compelled to craft a statewide preschool program, it should follow the principle and support the policy articulated in Utah Code 62A-4a-201 (1)(e):

It is the public policy of this state that parents retain the fundamental right and duty to exercise primary control over the care, supervision, upbringing, and education of their children.

– and do so by expanding in-home preschool options, such as the UPSTART program.

Thank you.

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‘A Defense of Utah’s “Zion Curtain”’

bartenderAlthough it is roundly mocked in the media and elsewhere, the so-called “Zion curtain” required in Utah restaurants helps prevent alcohol-related disasters and improve public safety. It does this by discouraging something that may be hard to measure but exists nonetheless: a culture of drinking. Paul Mero, in a new essay in support of Utah’s alcohol-control laws, writes,

Over the past year or two, Sutherland Institute has argued that the “Zion curtain” law addresses a culture of drinking and, at least based on real complaints about how the law actually suppresses liquor sales and consumption in restaurants, that it actually does what its supporters thought it would do. Sutherland Institute has argued (1) there is a self-evident culture of drinking, easily observable in a bar setting, (2) this culture of drinking should not be encouraged as a matter of public safety, (3) one way to discourage this culture of drinking is to limit this culture to bar settings (to keep this culture, as much as possible, out of restaurants) and (4) the “Zion curtain” is an innovative way to dampen a growing culture of drinking in Utah restaurants.

What about a drinker’s personal liberty?

A significant irony for liberty-loving utilitarian thinkers – and a pattern of thought embraced entirely by libertarians today – is that viewing law only as an individualistic matter drives a growing police state. If law is essentially contractual, without considering law as a reflection of prevailing morals and social norms, only police have a role in enforcement, meaning increasing lawlessness only can lead to a growing police state. If, in the name of personal responsibility, laws are seen as inherently insulting to “consenting adults” and bad personal behavior (leading to harmful personal and societal consequences) is just “the price of liberty,” police work would be little more than trying to clean up a never-ending supply of garbage. …

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Quick to judge, quick to condemn, and short on humor

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

ArgueWhen Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman went on his post-championship game rant against the San Francisco 49ers, I thought, wow, this guy has some issues. He referred to himself as the best cornerback in the league – that seemed classless. He berated his opponents – that seemed thuggish. My impression of him was, let’s say, less than stellar.

And then I read about his personal story – a ghetto kid who made it against all odds; a Stanford University graduate; and, yes, perhaps the best cornerback in football. My initial impression of Richard Sherman wasn’t a true impression of the man. In the heat of the moment, in the glow of the aftermath, he was obviously excited. His team was heading to the Super Bowl and, prior to the game, his defeated opponents spent all week demeaning him. Even the best of us lose it once in a while.

It’s amazing how quickly we judge people. Growing up I always heard people say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” So I don’t typically – although I have to say that the rule has its exceptions. But there seems to be a new standard of judging people: not by the cover of the book, but by a typo or misplaced comma or inarticulate phrase. Political correctness moved us away from the old book cover standard. But this new standard is hardly different. We now judge people on a moment in time, a moment when they’re not their best selves, but a moment hardly reflective of the real person.

If all I knew about Richard Sherman was that moment in time, during that interview, right after the football game, my judgment would have been mistaken. More than that, I would have deprived him of his personhood, dignity and humanity.

Another trend today in judging people is the lack of a sense of humor. Political correctness has just about killed humor. Consider, for a second, this weird Twitter conversation between state Representative Jake Anderegg and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser (or his intern or whoever replied).

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Sutherland statement on state brief filed with 10th Circuit Court

scalesUtah’s articulation of its interest in marriage is brilliant. Combined with several forthcoming amicus filings, the state’s case is impenetrable. The people of Utah can have confidence that their overwhelming majority view of marriage and family has been well represented. Indeed, the state’s argument sets the new legal standard in defense of the state interest in traditional marriage and the natural family.

Click here to read the brief.

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‘I hate you Washington,’ Americans beg

Waaah!Gallup conducts an annual poll asking people to “Please say whether you are very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, or very dissatisfied with our system of government and how well it works.” The percentage of people answering “very” or “somewhat” dissatisfied has risen steadily since 2000 from a low of 23% in 2002 to its current high of 65%. I’m shocked, shocked to find out people are increasingly unhappy with their government.

I would have posed the question differently, though. Instead of asking about their “satisfaction with our system of government and how well it works,” I’d have asked about their “satisfaction with how well our government works.” The difference is that, with the Gallup version, someone could be an avowed Marxist who’s dissatisfied with our system of government even as they’re happy to see it implode. In my version, we’d find out how people think the government is working irrespective of their preferred political or economic philosophies.

And that’s a distinction with a difference. I think most Americans are on board with a capitalist economy and a republican form of government. Most of us would just like to give it a try. Unfortunately, the way Gallup words the question we can’t break out which of those dissatisfied Americans are unhappy with the current trend towards crony corporatism and its inevitable failure to treat them fairly, or if they’re just upset at not getting their share of the plunder.

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On Point presented by Sutherland Institute, Show 3, 1/31/14

Senators Luz Robles and Deidre Henderson are joined by Michelle Mumford, assistant dean at BYU Law School, and Holly Richardson of the “Holly on the Hill” blog. The group discusses the tragic shooting of Sgt. Cory Wride and another officer; congratulates Sen. Robles on her engagement; discusses activity from the first week of the 2014 session; goes in depth on the Uintah Elementary school lunch scandal and Governor Herbert’s State of the State address.

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We were wrong

My friend Quinn McKay has helped facilitate several sessions in Sutherland Institute’s Transcend Series. Quinn’s focus is honesty and integrity. Early in each session Quinn invites a member of the audience to stand and asks the person, “Have you ever lied?” Usually, with a bit of nervous context added, the person says, “Of course, I have.” Whereupon Quinn asks the person, “So, do you think it is factual for me to introduce you to others as a liar? – as in, ‘Hey, this is Bob, he’s an admitted liar.’ ” Everyone in the room understands the point Quinn makes.

In his book The Bottom Line on Integrity Quinn quotes author Robert Louis Stevenson, “To tell the truth, rightly understood, is not just to state the true facts, but to convey a true impression.” Quinn adds, “In other words, when I fail to convey a true impression, by whatever means, I am lying.”

I raise this issue because I have been accused of lying about “gay rights,” same-sex relationships and nondiscrimination laws – and through me, Sutherland Institute.

As a part of Sutherland Institute’s First Freedoms campaign, we paid for three television ads speaking generally about nondiscrimination laws. One of the ads mentions the potentially difficult situation for landlords who contract with a religious college to house students – a not-so-subtle reference to Brigham Young University private student housing. The text of the commercial states,

Nondiscrimination laws might sound reasonable. We all care about fairness, and they sound fair. But imagine you’re a landlord, renting to private university students in accordance with the university’s honor code and a young man decides that he wants to live in women’s housing. Those special rights would trump your rights as a landlord and, ultimately, the honor code. How fair is that? We can do better here in Utah. Visit for more information.

Late last night (January 29), I saw a comment on Twitter to the effect that the ad is inaccurate – that Senator Urquhart’s nondiscrimination bill would not permit that result. I contested, confidently. As it turned, much to my chagrin, the critic was correct. I knew Urquhart had amended his current bill, SB 100, to exempt “approved” housing that would cover the situation described in the television ad – and I thought he had amended the bill recently. Turns out, the “approved” housing exemption was in last year’s version as well.

I was wrong. I immediately apologized and thanked the critic for pointing it out and mentioned that we would pull that particular ad.

Trust me, I felt awful. I don’t claim to know everything about a lot of things, but I do pride myself in accuracy about what I do know. I felt sick – mostly for me – it’s a pride thing. But we move on. We immediately pulled the ad from You Tube and from our web site. No problem. The process to pull the ad from airing on television is more complicated[i], but it’s being done.

For my public confession and immediate actions to correct my mistake, I am now a “liar,” at least according to some homosexual activists with a proven record of animus toward me and Sutherland Institute’s work in defense of traditional marriage and the natural family. Here’s what that sounds like:

From @EricEthington: “@paulmero & @SutherlandInst admit they’re lying to Utah about nondiscrimination laws.”

From @EricEthington: “@Brooke4Trib @BenWinslow Did you see Sutherland’s @paulmero admit their pro-discrimination TV ads are false?”

From @TroyWilliams: “@paulmero & @SutherlandInst have no problem lying about LGBT families.”

From @HunnerWoof: “When you can’t win with truth, I guess it’s OK to lie to get your way.”

From @betterutah: “Looks like @SutherlandInst admits anti-lgbt discrimination ads are lies. Think tank? Think not!”

From @EricEthington: “@theleftshow Waiting to hear back. Of course, there’s quite a bit dishonest in ALL of @SutherlandInst’s videos, not just the one.”

From @Jojomewing: “@SutherlandInst @paulmero Stop deceiving Utah!”

From @dhutch24: “Sutherland Institute lied!”

From @FirstRateDrew: “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness. Will you obey this commandment? Or openly defy Him?”

You get the message: “Paul Mero and Sutherland Institute are liars and purposefully ran deceptive television ads – they’re evil and can’t be trusted.” Right?

I know. Consider the sources. They are full of animus.

But what will be interesting to me is how the “mainstream” media might respond. Will it assume these critics filled with animus are correct about my and Sutherland’s motives? Or will it see it for what it is, an error, and let it go – perhaps even give us credit for unhesitatingly admitting the error and making the correction?

I ask because the “mainstream” media sometimes fails, in my opinion, to fact-check “gay rights” activists.

For instance, and this is just the big “oversight”: There’s no evidence of discrimination in Utah. Senator Urquhart and supporters of his nondiscrimination bill argue that his bill is needed to address the widespread discrimination in Utah against LGBT. But there is no evidence. On Nov. 27, 2013, the Legislature’s Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel released a memo showing that out of 18 municipalities in Utah that have passed local nondiscrimination ordinances, and over a four-year span since 2009, only three complaints of discrimination were filed (all in Salt Lake City) – all three investigated and ruled unsubstantiated.



Complaints Filed

Substantiated Complaints

Alta 0 n/a
Grand County 0 n/a
Harrisville 0 n/a
Logan 0 n/a
Marriott-Slaterville 0 n/a
Midvale 0 n/a
Moab 0 n/a
Murray 0 n/a
Ogden 0 n/a
Park City 0 n/a
Salt Lake City 3 (1 Housing, 2 Employment) 0
Salt Lake County 0 n/a
South Salt Lake 0 n/a
Springdale 0 n/a
Summit County 0 n/a
Taylorsville 0 n/a
Washington Terrace 0 n/a
West Valley City 0 n/a


Municipalities with Nondiscrimination Ordinances: 18 (Source: Equality Utah)

Housing Complaints: 1

Employment Complaints: 2

Substantiated Complaints: 0

The idea that discrimination against LGBT is rampant, or even a real concern, in Utah is misinformed. It’s not a “true impression.” And that is just one false impression among many from supporters of same-sex marriage and Senator Urquhart’s nondiscrimination bill.

To every critic of Sutherland Institute, our work is on display. One thoughtful critic found an error – and we salute him – and I apologized personally, on the spot, and we took care of it immediately. At Sutherland Institute, it’s our promise to be honest and candid in leaving true impressions, and not just isolated fact. We hope everyone working these hot-button issues tries to do the same.

But we understand how the game is played. Most opponents in policy and politics are ever ready to magnify a misstep of their adversaries in an effort to discredit everything they disagree with. We understand that’s the world of politics, but we don’t operate that way.

So we know the assaults on our integrity will continue. But that’s because Sutherland Institute is effective and has constructive educational influence in this state.

This has been a valuable lesson for us and should be a valuable lesson for everyone. Again, I apologize.

[i] Early this morning, Sutherland requested the ad in question be pulled. As a result, all stations have either pulled the spot or have a few more running through today (Jan. 30), mainly on Comcast. Comcast requires a 24-hour turnaround because its traffic center is out of market and it takes longer for the changes to occur. Dish and DirecTV require a three-day turnaround.

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Graphic: A bill’s long and winding road

Here’s a fun, easy-to-understand graphic on how a bill becomes a law in Utah. (Click to enlarge.) You can print it out and follow along with the 2014 Legislature …


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Put burden of proof on those who would liberalize liquor laws

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Flaming_cocktailsLast year, a scholarly paper was presented at the Alcohol Policy 16 Conference explaining how restaurants can transform in all practical aspects into bars through liberalized liquor laws – to the point at which restaurants are becoming more of the source of disorder and crime than bars. The paper did not describe circumstances in heavy control states such as Utah or Arkansas or Kentucky. The paper studied progressive, enlightened, liquor-loving California.

The problem is that restaurants are not regulated as strictly as bars. When restaurants morph into bars, the ill effects are equally present but the lack of regulations do not adequately compensate for the growth in disorder and crime. These morphing restaurants over-serve and under-enforce, leading to disproportionate numbers of police calls for drunkenness, violence and sexual assault.

Local government officials encourage morphing in the name of economic development precisely because restaurants face fewer controls and there can be ambiguity between state liquor laws, local zoning ordinances and discretion in use permits. Even as state liquor laws struggle to keep up with morphing, local governments and businesses lack incentive to mitigate it. Shared authority becomes a hindrance to effective liquor control policies.

Measuring, or quantifying, the effects of restaurants becoming bars is a double-edged sword. The ability to measure the effects of morphing exists but the measurements require experiences where morphing already has occurred. In other words, you only can measure what already has occurred – hardly a prudent way to learn the lessons of alcohol abuse and the destructive influences of liberalized laws.

In all of this sits Utah’s “Zion Curtain” law. For cynics who demand evidence that the “Zion Curtain” reduces liquor consumption and mitigates under-age drinking, there is one sure way to find out: get rid of it and expand access to liquor in restaurants.

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Don’t take my PILT down, man

Calf Creek Canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Calf Creek Canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

There’s nothing wrong with PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) that getting rid of the need for PILT won’t fix. But so long as there’s a “in Lieu of Taxes,” getting rid of “Payments” would be fundamentally unfair and harmful to Western counties and states. And yet, that seems to be where we’re going.

PILT was created in the 1970s to offset the revenues that counties – mostly in the West – lost due to tighter environmental regulation on federally owned lands.  It was a “make ’em an offer they can’t refuse” scenario where the federal government said they would offset lost tax revenues with direct payments that the counties could then use to pay for their schools, public safety, and all of those boring things. In other words, the counties were “asked” to trade economic independence and good jobs for an annual check from Uncle Sam.

This may not seem like a big deal to states east of the Rocky Mountains – you could add up all of their PILT payments combined and it wouldn’t equal the payments that go to any two Western states. But if your county is 90 percent (or even 98 percent) owned by the federal government it’s easy to imagine that having no property or income taxes coming off of those lands can have a significant impact, not just to counties’ coffers but to their way of life.

And that seems to be the direction we’re going. The recent omnibus (D.C.-speak for “too big for anyone to read”) spending bill cut PILT payments to … nothing.

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City Weekly’s querulous ‘fact-check’ article is short on fact-checking

BardrinksIn response to a news release, with accompanying videos, from the LDS Church on Utah’s alcohol control policies, City Weekly published an article claiming to “fact check” the church statement. Reading through the article, the odd thing about it is that it didn’t really contain much fact checking. Rather, it reads more like a list of complaints about how the news release didn’t say what City Weekly wanted it to say. Let’s take City Weekly’s “fact checks” in turn.

“Fact check” No. 1: “Utah laws are ‘perhaps’ the reason why there are so few alcohol problems”

In one video, the church suggested that “perhaps the most important” factor in Utah’s low alcohol-related traffic deaths per capita are the state’s alcohol control laws. Note the word “perhaps,” suggesting one possibility or communicating that this is a statement of opinion.

Most reasonable people would read or hear that and realize that it was a suggestion or statement of opinion, not a definitive or factual statement. City Weekly, on the other hand, evidently felt compelled to “fact check” this statement, which amounted to providing a dissenting opinion from another organization…which of course is not fact-checking at all since opinion is not fact, no facts are being disputed, and no facts are being offered to correct any misstatement of fact. Maybe City Weekly wanted to remind people that there are various opinions on the question of why Utah’s alcohol-related traffic deaths per capita is so exceptional. But to call that “fact-checking” would be, ironically, factually inaccurate.

Fact check” No. 2: “Only jerks weird-shame Utah for its liquor laws”

The second complaint … sorry, “fact check” … that City Weekly wrote about was that the figure in a church video representing opposition to Utah’s alcohol laws did not have a face. The “fact check” is that “the voices calling for changes to Utah laws aren’t just faceless whiners b_____ about Utah’s liquor laws.” The article then went on to put faces, names, and/or affiliations to some of those “faceless whiners.”

Presumably, City Weekly would have the church video point out a specific person or group in its video, like City Weekly does in its “fact check.” However, this would also be a factually inaccurate representation of the “Zion Wall” opponents since it doesn’t fully represent all the voices opposing the policy. So this “fact check” is less about getting the facts straight than it is about complaining about how the video was done. Once again, not really fact-checking at all.

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On Point presented by Sutherland Institute, Show 2, 1/24/14

Panelists for Show 2 are Holly Richardson, Michelle Mumford, Tami Pyfer, and Traci Gundersen.

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